Comic queen and feminist icon Amy Poehler once said that great people do things before they’re ready. Recalling my history with bicycles–and the subsequent perambulation down memory lane–has me desperately hoping that she was right. When I was six, my father put me on my older brother’s bike and pushed me out of our garage. The bike was a good six inches too tall for me, I wasn’t wearing elbow or knee pads, I certainly didn’t have training wheels and I honestly can’t recall whether or not I had a helmet on. But, in theory at least, I understood how to ride a bike and that day, the day I had to very quickly figure out how to ride a bike lest I immediately crash on the asphalt, I didn’t fall.
The page I chose from Strickland’s “What Every Kid Wants” spoke of how bikes taught responsibility and balance, while at the same time being that one impossible, hope-filled, childlike dream that somehow came true for so many children across the world. Perhaps it’s college student angst, perhaps too few years have gone by since my dad pushed me out of the garage for a shiny veneer of nostalgia to settle over those memories, but Strickland’s portrait of the place biking holds in a child’s life didn’t quite ring true for me. Bikes meant something different, taught different lessons, factored into a different kind of memory for me. The bikes I rode growing up were never mine, but always hand me downs from my older brothers. As a result, they were always far too big for me when I first began riding them. But what choice does a child in early 2000’s suburban America have but to ride a bike? Though I wasn’t ready to begin riding when I did, though I didn’t have bikes built for my short legs, I rode my brothers’ biked as far as I could and as long as I could. Bikes taught me resilience, independence, and fearlessness. They taught me to look out for myself while simultaneously making do with what I had. They taught me that maybe sometimes, making do gave me an edge. Bigger bikes have bigger wheels, and bigger wheels move faster.
Growing up the youngest of four in a single income family, the mentality of making do followed me from grade to grade, from sport to sport, from year to year. But it was my early experience with bicycles that shaped how I viewed that mentality. On my giant, beat up, black and white bike with thick tires and heavy chains, I could go faster than any of the girls and most of the boys I knew. When I started figure skating at age eight, I could jump higher and spin faster than anyone else on my team, even while wearing old skates and leggings from Target, instead of the $90 skating pants and $500 boots the rest of my team wore. When I got tired of watching my brothers attend Boy Scout camps and go on backpacking and camping trips all over California, I co founded and became the president of a co ed venture crew, and, with a used backpack, a tiny tent I was continually mending (and making lighter), and bed roll made of foam I’d taken a box cutter to, I summited ahead of the Eagle Scouts who joined the crew, despite their expensive packs and brand name shoes. From the day I figured out that it didn’t matter what my bike looked like or who had owned it before, I started applying that concept to many other aspects of my life. Biking taught me that, if my concern wasn’t focused on the tools I had to do the work I was attempting to do, but rather the work itself, making do could mean doing my best.
Personally, I found that Strickland’s work lacked universality in his assumption of the financial possibility of a child receiving a bicycle, but his rhetoric concerning the lessons learned from early childhoods spent on wheels bears an undeniable note of truth. During a phase of life so easily influenced by the outside world, seeing that world while perched on a bicycle will, almost unfailingly, impact and shift the life of the rider.